Often, our families have many questions about the Common Entrance, particularly regarding what it is, its importance in the admissions process, how to interpret the pass mark and the logistics of sitting the CE when moving from a state primary school to an independent secondary school.
The CE examinations are produced by the Independent Schools Examinations Board and are backed by HMC (Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference), GSA (Girls’ Schools Association), and IAPS (Independent Association of Prep Schools), representing the leading UK independent schools. The exams cover a wide array of subjects and can be taken at 11+ (year 6) or 13+ (year 8). All independent secondary schools for girls start at age 11 (year 7) but independent secondary schools for boys have a choice of two entrance years – aged 11 (year 7) and 13 (year 9). These days the most academically selective schools will also usually require the ISEB Common Pre-Test however, regardless of when it is taken, the CE is normally the final hurdle for a child to cross in order to secure a place at a senior independent school.
Candidates usually complete as many subjects as they can and papers last between 40 and 90 minutes. English, Mathematics and Science are compulsory while French, Geography, German, Classical Greek, History, Latin, Religious Studies and Spanish are also offered. Most subjects (core subjects, languages) will offer papers at more than one level to cater for candidates of different abilities. Less academic candidates are not expected to sit for papers beyond their ability.
CE papers are usually marked by academic staff at the senior school for which a student is entered although some senior schools do allow marking by a trusted partner Prep School. Candidates are graded for each subject, from A to E. Each senior school decides the range of marks represented by each grade, which will therefore vary from one school to another. Some schools will accept a lower score in one or more subjects if higher scores are achieved in other areas. Results are generally available around two weeks after the examinations have taken place.
While there is no pass mark per se, a pass mark of 60% and upwards is generally deemed to be selective and above 70% is very selective. Very academic candidates may also take the Common Academic Scholarship Exam (CASE) which is designed to identify pupils of exceptional proficiency in particular subject areas, and who may also be awarded a scholarship (which generally offers a reduction in school fees).
Pupils from state schools can sit Common Entrance at 11+ when state primary schools finish. At 13+, advice should be sought from the chosen senior school about the papers which need to be taken, and at which level. Pupils from the state sector can usually arrange to sit the papers at their current school or a local Prep school. CE also has sufficient flexibility to make provisions for candidates from schools which do not prepare pupils for the traditional range of CE subjects by offering a reduced number of papers.